Collagraph techniques

Collagraphy (sometimes spelled collography) is a printmaking process in which materials are applied to a rigid substrate (such as cardboard, paperboard, wood or metal). The word is derived from the Greek word koll or kolla, meaning glue, and graph, meaning the activity of drawing.

Collagraph prints are beautiful in the amount of fine detail they can communicate. Different tonal effects and vibrant colours can be achieved with the technique due to the depth of relief and differential inking that results from the collagraph plate’s highly textured surface.

The low relied plate can be printed:

  • intaglio: below the surface with the ink in the lower parts of the plate, burnishing the relief
  • relief: the ink sitting on the higher parts of the plate
  • combination: using different tones or colours. This often also takes advantages of differences in viscosity of ink that can be obtained through using different amounts of extender.

Many layers can be superimposed using registration techniques.

For details of different aspects of collagraph printing see Logbook Part 4: Collagraph pp 2-3.

1) Making a plate

The plate can be made from any sturdy material, cut to any size. Or different size plates can be combined as long as allowance is made for some degree of embossing around the plate. Sometimes it may be necessary to seal the plate before gluing on objects.

Any low relief materials can be glued onto the plate. Collagraphs can pick up fine detail so it is not necessary to have high relief. Thin materials print very well – the depth of masking tape will transfer surface texture and shape when printing. Different surfaces absorb in different ways and these differences can be exploited to the full. Smooth surfaces can be burnished to remove ink and give subtle tones.

Shapes and images can be implied through creative use of contrasting textures and surfaces. Simple bold arrangements of shapes and textures work well – abstract qualities creating a surface of graet interest and visual effects.

– plant materials will last longer if the leaves etc are dried out and no longer contain moisture.

– carborundim grit (see below) mixed with glue can give a dense mark.

– glue, acrylic gesso and tile adhesives and even thick impasto acrylic paint can be used and sculpted or drawn into on the plate in low relief.

– the surface of the plate can be cut or scored into as long as the marks are not too deep from the top parts of the print.

BUT it is important that no one material stands too proud or it will stop the area around it from printing. Try not to use anything thicker than a piece of mountboard to give a good even printing across the plate.

Do not use anything sharp or it can cut the blankets on the press.

When the glue has dried thoroughly, give 2 coats of varnish or shellac to stop paper sticking to the plate and enable it to be cleaned.

2) Inking the plate

Before inking for the first time, to help the plate separate from the paper, rub a small quantity of oil into the surface with cotton wool.

Intaglio: because different materials hold onto ink in different ways, it is useful to mix etching ink with plate oil or extender to loosen the ink, making it easier to wipe and thin the saturated ink colour. 50/50 is good to start with and can then be adjusted after proofing. Different materials will require different proportions and each plate is unique. Different inks and percentages will also give different effects.

Wipe off with tissue/scrim.

Relief: Best done with a roller and stiff relief ink.

Applying the ink can be done with different implements:

– brushes of different types and sizes can paint and texture the plate much as with monoprint.

– toothbrushes

– rollers – soft rollers will push ink further into the plate. If you want to just cover the highest parts use a hard roller. Small rollers can get ink into different areas of colour. Big rollers give a consistent sweep.

– dollies made up of rolled J-cloths bound with masking tape.

– cotton buds, particularly for tight corners

– wipe off/burnish areas with tissue paper, newspaper, scrim or j-cloths give different effects.

3) Printing the plate

Paper can be of varying types depending on the effect required.

– for intaglio use damp paper

– for relief dry or damp.

Types of paper

– 250-300 gms printing or watercolour paper is best used damp.

– thinner paper can be used even tissue paper or newsprint if more vague images are required.

– hosho paper works well but do not dampen it.


Experiment with different amounts and types of packing paper. The thicker and softer the packing eg blotting paper, the more it will push the print into the recesses of the plate. You can also reverse the blankets.

Putting first the paper on top of the plate pushes down for intaglio.

Putting then the plate on top of the paper gives a clear relief.

Clean the plate with cooking oil but this will always leave an (often interesting) shadow. Different effects can be built up in this way.

The plate can be intaglio-inked, inked with a roller or paintbrush, or some combination thereof. Ink or pigment is applied to the resulting collage, and the board is used to print onto paper or another material using either a printing press or various hand tools. The resulting print is termed a collagraph. Substances such as carborundum, acrylic texture mediums, sandpapers, bubble wrap, string, cut card, leaves and grass can all be used in creating the collagraph plate. In some instances, leaves can be used as a source of pigment by rubbing them onto the surface of the plate.

Collagraphy is a very open printmaking method. Ink may be applied to the upper surfaces of the plate with a brayer for a relief print, or ink may be applied to the entire board and then removed from the upper surfaces but remain in the spaces between objects, resulting in an intaglio print. A combination of both intaglio and relief methods may also be employed. A printing press may or may not be used.

Carborundum printmaking

A collagraph printmaking technique in which the image is created by adding light passages to a dark field. It is a relatively new process invented in the US during the 1930s that allows artists to work on a large scale. Normally, cardboard or wood plates are coated in a layer of carborundum or screen, and the lights are created by filling in the texture with screen filler or glue. Carborundum prints may be printed as intaglio plates.

Carborundum was originally used by printmakers to grind down lithography stones and is now used in collagraph prints to create gradients of tone and a sandy texture. It works because when the carborundum adheres to the plate the ink sits around it. It can be applied in a number of different ways:

  • Painting onto the plate with a liquid glue and then sprinkling the carborundum onto it
  • Mixing different amounts of glue with it and then painting them on in sections, the more grit used the darker. Example: one spoon of carborundum to five spoons of glue will be much lighter than five spoons of carborundum to five spoons of glue.
  • Using stencils to apply the glue and sprinkling different amounts of carborundum through the different stencils.

To print a carborundum print, the surface is covered in ink, and then the surface is wiped clean with tarlatan cloth or newspaper, leaving ink only in the texture of the screen or carborundum. A damp piece of paper is placed on top, and the plate and paper are run through a printing press that, through pressure, transfers the ink from the recesses of the plate to the paper. Very large editions are not possible as a small amount of carborundum comes off every time it is wiped down.

3 Replies to “Collagraph techniques”

  1. Great info–I need this website!!!
    Glue: What do you recommend? What about gloss medium for this purpose?
    Problem: When I use black for lines incised on collagraph plate, it’s often hard or impossible to remove excess–resulting in dirty-looking plate, which can transfer to printing paper. I need help! Didn’t used to have this problem.

    1. Hi Lois, Glad you find it useful. I am just getting back into things again. I use PVA glue. But then varnish to stop it dissolving when printing. I am sure there are different ways of doing it.

  2. This is a fantastic post, I am studying Textiles with OCA and am currently doing the printing unit of Mixed Media for Textiles. I have spent the day experimenting with a collagraph block and Akua and still felt fairly mystified by the process. Having read what you have written everything makes so much more sense to me now. Thank you SO much!

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